My name is Penelope Hyatt Barber and I'm a pretty energetic gal who enjoys coffee (strong coffee), trail riding on my bicycle, and coaching soccer. I was born on March 12, 1965, in Memphis, TN. I grew up in a stable home with my parents, Don and Beverly Barber, an older brother, Chris, born in January of 1962, and a younger sister, Anne, born in 1968. We enjoyed having lots of family around us, including 3 grandparents (the maternal ones we visited often), and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. My mother was one of 7 children and they were a close-knit family and we got together for holidays and activities often. My father was the oldest of 3 children and we visited his mother and siblings only on holidays. I have wonderful memories of growing up in Memphis. I loved the schools we attended (I've always loved learning), I loved playing soccer, basketball, and volleyball; I had good relationships with teachers and friends and was always a good student; I loved summers spent swimming at my cousins' home and holidays spent with family, feasting and playing soccer and going for walks to Audubon Park; and I loved going to Sunday School and church. Although my father was only an Easter attender, my mother grew up in the St. Paul United Methodist Church on the corner of Euclid and Rozelle, and that's where my siblings and I attended from birth through high school! I can clearly recall three of our pastors, all very nice gentlemen who loved Jesus and loved us kids! I remember my Sunday school teachers - Miss Dorothy, Mrs. Kramer, and Mrs. Windors. I remember the choir director and the adult choir, and how excited I was when I was finally old enough to sing in it (at age 13). That was great fun and the adults were so nice to us teenagers! And we even had a small but lively youth group, led by a sweet little old couple in their 70's - Mr. and Mrs. Reeves. They would have weekly meetings with us, and annual Christmas parties at their home, where Mr. Reeves would make each of us a homemade chocolate shake! Every quarter, the Reeves' would take us to Theatre Memphis to see a show. Our youth group would serve as ushers for the evening and then we'd get to fill any extra seats or sit on the stairs and watch the production for free. My favorite show was always A Christmas Carol. One year, my father was even in it, playing the role of the ghost of Mr. Marley! That was really cool! After the plays, Mr. and Mrs. Reeves would take our youth group (usually 5-7 kids) out to Shoney's and treat all of us to dinner and while I don't recall any specifics of the lessons they would teach us, I know they loved Jesus, and they loved us. I have always loved going to church…and it's a feeling that has never gone away.
I graduated from White Station High School in May of 1983, with a G.P.A. over 4.0 (because of A.P. Classes). Although my parents could not afford to pay for my college, I received good scholarships and financial aid and attended Washington University in St. Louis. It was a tremendous and amazing time of fun, learning, and development for me. I thrived in the stimulating academic setting and I felt empowered by a sense of independence and discovery and opportunity. I took classes that interested me (like Biology and English Literature) and I tried some new ones (like Italian and Philosophy). I worked different jobs that all provided fresh experiences and insights (from doughnut maker to lab assistant to set production at the campus theatre)! And I continued to grow in my faith as well. My first Sunday at Washington University, I attended worship at the campus chapel where congregations from all over the neighborhood had come and set up tables to draw students to the local churches. I naturally gravitated toward the United Methodist table and met a wonderful couple who would become my dear friends and mentors - Ann and Mac Dillon. They offered to pick me up every week if I'd like to go with them to worship at University United Methodist. I said yes, and that began a wonder friendship (and shuttle service) that lasted throughout my four years at Wash. Univ.
My Jr. year of college, Rev. Bruce Davis became the pastor at University United Methodist Church and for the first time in my life, I began to really listen to the sermons! I had attended church all my life, but never before had I experienced such powerful preaching. It connected with me in a very Spirit-led way, and I began to question and grow and stretch the faith I'd been spoon-fed as a child. Rather than being put off or dismissive of my myriad questions, Rev. Bruce would even meet me on campus occasionally to talk with me. There was also another United Methodist pastor on campus, Rev. Roger, who pastored the Wesley Foundation and also attended University United Methodist. The three of us would have great conversations and we even played church basketball together. It was a powerful time of growth in my faith as I began trying to discern the direction God had for my life. In the winter of my Jr. year, Roger asked me if I had ever thought of becoming a pastor. The question came seemingly out of the blue and I laughed and immediately dismissed it. But the seed took root in my mind and I couldn't seem to help but entertain the idea… A month or two later, Bruce asked me the same question and to my surprise, I became quite defensive, "What is this, a conspiracy? No, I've never thought of being a pastor!" (which in fact, was not true…) Neither of them mentioned it again, until I brought it up to Rev. Roger one day, hypothetically speaking, of course. I asked him what one would do, if one was considering becoming a pastor? Roger suggested reading a book called The Christian as Minister and he happened to have a copy, which he gave me. I read it and soon asked him what the next step was. He suggested doing a candidacy study, which he would be happy to mentor me through. I did my candidacy study during my senior year of college, and by the time I finished, I had begun to suspect that God was calling me to seminary. Bruce happened to know of a good one in Kansas City, MO and he signed me up for a Discover Saint Paul weekend. It was May of 1987 when I toured the seminary, and I not only discovered Saint Paul, I also discovered a young second year student named Howard S. Bell, who would later become my husband! I graduated from Washington University that month, and decided I would consider seminary at a later time. Besides, I already had a job lined up at Tripos Associates and I wanted to earn some money and buy my first car. It was a great year. I made a lot of friends, had fun, earned some money, bought a car, and started dating Howard. But the Lord kept nudging me to go to seminary. After seven months, I gave in. I told the Lord I would go to seminary, but I still wasn't convinced I was supposed to be a pastor. I told the Lord it was up to Him to convince me, but if He made His will clear to me, I would do my absolute best to follow it.
Howard graduated from seminary and he and I got married in May of 1988. Although he was a member of the Southern Illinois Conference, he started his first appointment in MO West and I started seminary in August of 1988. In June of 1990, about half-way through seminary, I was ordained a Deacon in the Southern Illinois Conference. That was one of the most amazing, grace-filled moments of my life as I felt what I can only describe as the Lord's anointing. As Bishop Woodie White handed me a Bible and put his hands on my head and said, "Take thou the authority to preach the Word of God," I felt God's pleasure with me, and I was filled with peace, terror, and excitement, all at once! But I also had received the confirmation that I needed. God really was calling me to be a pastor. I graduated Saint Paul School of Theology in May of 1991 and even received the Ray Kimbrell Award for Excellence in Biblical Studies.
After graduation, I was appointed to a 3-point charge and Howard was appointed to a 2-point charge in the West Frankfort, IL area. While there, the Lord blessed us with our two wonderful children - David, born in 1994, and Rachel, born in 1997. And our children are amazing! They are academically gifted, athletic, energetic, creative, playful, witty, kind-hearted and they love Jesus! Our son David has graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and is a high school teacher and football coach. Our daughter Rachel has just completed her jr. year of college at Auburn University in Alabama and is working over the summer for the Graduate School and the Wesley Foundation at Auburn. Even though our daily routines have altered somewhat in recent years, we find that God’s grace is ever-present, helping us find new “normals” and adjusting to new stages in life (the whole empty-nester thing has held both challenges and rewards). Even so, there is rarely a dull moment around here. I praise God for the joys of having a family and church family who live and play together, worship together, and love and help each other. We feel God's blessings daily.
Anyway, to continue the appointment list, Howard and I were appointed as co-pastors of the Clinton United Methodist Church in Clinton, IL in 1998 and we served there for 6 years. Then in July of 2004, I was appointed to the Casey UMC and Howard was appointed to the Oblong Evangelical UMC in Oblong, IL. I have also enjoyed the wonderful privilege of studying evangelism at Perkins School of Theology on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. I received a Doctor of Ministry degree from them in May of 2006. In summer of 2012, Howard was moved to a new charge in Louisville, IL, while I remained at Casey UMC. Howard has since taken a leave from pastoral ministry (as of December 31st, 2013) and is now working full-time at the National Archives and Records Center in St. Louis. While so many things are swirling and changing around us, the one constant I see is the love God has for us all. I consider life a wonderful, adventurous journey and I'm looking forward to the next chapter in it!
What truly motivates me is the opportunity to introduce people to Jesus and help them grow more deeply committed to Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior. Howard and I decided a long time ago that God is the author of our story and we are flexible and open to whatever paths God directs us to travel. And our family feels the same way. David will be moving to a new high school this summer and Rachel continues her studies at Auburn University. We are appreciative of the past, enjoying the present, and excited about the future…. God is good – in every time!